Thursday, March 28, 2024

Goodbye, Readers Book Exchange

This shop was my favourite bookshop in the whole world, and it closed for good today. It had been around for nearly 60 years, opening when The Beatles were still a thing, outlasting the USSR and surviving well into the 21st century, but its day is done. The Reader's Book Exchange in Timaru, just down from the Majestic Theatre, is no more.

I thought it was going to shut down months ago, and got abnormally emotional about it in the back room, but I got to go there a couple more times in the past few weeks, buying a few of Mick Herron's books, a little bit of Snoopy, a collection of science fiction short stories by an author I'd never heard of before, and an old book about disasters which was far and away my favourite non-fiction book in my primary school library when I was 8. That all seemed pretty apt.

The book selection got thinner and thinner as the years went on, but every time I was in town for the past decade or two, I'd make some time to bound up the concrete steps and have a browse, at least walking out with a Michael Moorcock paperback or something. 

It was my place. It always was. My Nana Smith, who passed away 24 years ago, worked there on and off for many years, and encouraged my reading to a wonderful degree, largely forming the nerd I am today. If she hadn't worked there, I wouldn't be doing this blog, or read thousands and thousands of wonderful comic books over the years. 

This is where I got the Unknown Soldier comics that I used to learn to read, the best issue of the Uncanny X-Men ever (#138) and the 2000ad cover where you see who Old Ben from Harry 20 on the High Rock really was. I got the thoroughly excellent Robocop novelization from there, and regularly bought Exploits of Spider-Man mags in the 90s. I still have issues of Hulk and Unexpected and Legion of Super-Heroes that I bought decades ago.

It'll probably turn into a vape shop, but it'll always be the best second-hand bookshop there ever was to me.

1 comment:

SpiesAreUs said...

That's sad. Who doesn’t yearn to browse around a good old fashioned antiquarian or second hand bookshop? Mind you, you don't have to work for MI6 to realise that bookstores can be pretty daunting, beguiling if not dangerous and spooky places.

In England, arguably the most famous spooky bookshop is at Sarah Key Books or The Haunted Bookshop situated in St Edward’s Passage Cambridge since 1896. This quaint shop is less than a third of a mile distant from Trinity College down a tiny alley in the historic heartland of Cambridge. Rumour has it that a genuine ghost resides there.

We can confirm that members of the Cambridge Five probably bought books at or visited Mr David’s bookshop in the 1930s and sauntered past it on frequent occasions on the way to and from the pubs in Bene’t Street and their rooms in Trinity College Cambridge.

Search as you might though, despite being tailor made for espionage, few bookshops have become infamous safe houses, dead drop sites or even spy stations. Maybe that anonymity arises because the owners were such sophisticated and successful spies. Put another way, would you have heard anything extraordinarily interesting about Kim Philby or Aldrich Ames had they not been exposed?

The most successful antiquarian bookshop we know of that was up to its shelves in espionage is the subject of an intriguing news article dated November 16, 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website. Well worth a visit and the (advert free) website is like an espionage museum in its own right.